Kate, a friend of mine picked me up from the airport, and since it was late, I stayed with her for the night. Returning was strange. This time there was no promise of ever seeing Kiribati again. Taking a shower with warm water was bittersweet. No more bucket bathing or waking up to henry screaming at the top of his lungs. No more Tamana, no more Tarawa, no more family I saw as family. I broke down too many times to count, thinking about my losses and wishing that I finished my last three months of service. I wished I could say goodbye to the country in a dignified way. But this was how it turned out. I faked a smile when she hugged me at the gate – Welcome home, Mike!
I was home, or at least that’s what people told me. I didn’t feel that way. Home was taken from me, and everything reminded me how far from home I was. Kate took me to a local pizza shop before heading back home. The drive to Ohio was short, but it seemed interminable. It was as if I were watching myself from a distance. Going through motions yet numb to all emotion. Waiting in the car, she watched me walk up to the porch. The same porch the FedEx driver left my invite into the Peace Corps on.
I pictured reunification to be a bit different than it happened. I rang the doorbell. The door swung open. My dad stood with a bewildered look on his face, as if to say – you have the wrong house, I didn’t order a pizza. After a moment, he smiled, unlatched the door, and began hurling questions at me as any parent would. “Shouldn’t you be in Kiribati now? What are you doing here? How did you get here?” Pointing to the car in the driveway, Kate drove me. He looked over to see her smiling and waving, “from Kiribati?”
It’s a long story, and I’m a bit tired, plus the pizza is getting cold, can I come in?
Kate pulled away. The screen door slammed behind me, leaving me in a house I would eventually learn to call home again.